World Premiere of Agnes Borinsky's THE TREES to be Presented at Playwrights Horizons in February

In The Trees, siblings Sheila and David unwittingly establish a utopian community in a public park after waking up and realizing their feet have rooted into the ground.

By: Dec. 22, 2022
World Premiere of Agnes Borinsky's THE TREES to be Presented at Playwrights Horizons in February
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Playwrights Horizons and Page 73 Productions will present the world premiere of Agnes Borinsky's The Trees, directed by Tina Satter, February 8-March 19. In The Trees, siblings Sheila and David unwittingly establish a utopian community in a public park after waking up and realizing their feet have rooted into the ground. Borinsky's mischievously human play is quite literally grounded in relationships-with its protagonists stuck in, and to, nature and intimate coexistence. The Trees, which was commissioned by Playwrights Horizons with funds provided by the Jody Falco and Jeffrey Steinman commission for Emerging Playwrights, will be performed in Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theater (416 W. 42nd Street), February 12-March 19, 2023. The production opens on March 5.

The image of a brother and sister rooted into the ground appeared during a writing workshop in 2013, and it lingered in Borinsky's mind. The play itself began to take shape years later, in 2017, as other characters started to appear around the original pair. She says, "Kafka took ideas that might seem like punchlines and stayed with them. I love the idea of staying with something that seems like a joke long enough for it to become something else - something stranger, or unexpectedly rich." The characters in the play undergo the same experience as meaning accumulates around their fixed state.

Over the course of the play, Sheila and David find themselves joined by their Polish grandmother, a Rabbi from Cleveland, a boyfriend with baggage, a flock of twinks, an enterprising snack vendor, and many others.

The cast of The Trees is: Jess Barbagallo (David), Marcia DeBonis (Sheryl), Crystal Dickinson (Sheila), Sean Donovan (Jared), Xander Fenyes (Ezra), Nile Harris (Julian), Max Gordon Moore (Saul), Pauli Pontrelli (Tavish), Ray Anthony Thomas (Norman), Danusia Trevino (Grandmother), Sam Breslin Wright (Terry/Vendor), and Becky Yamamoto (Charlotte).

The creative team includes Parker Lutz (Scenic Designer), Enver Chakartash (Costume Designer), Thomas Dunn (Lighting Designer), Tei Blow (Sound Designer), Amanda Villalobos (Puppet Designer), Randi Rivera (Production Stage Manager), and Kayla Owen (Assistant Stage Manager).

Tina Satter, the theatrically inventive founder and artistic director of Half Straddle, recently turned what some could see as a constraint-never veering from a verbatim FBI interrogation transcript-into an "astonishing-and astonishingly emotional" (The New York Times, Critic's Pick review) work of theater in Is This a Room. In Borinsky's The Trees, Satter gets to mine the dramatic tension and possibility of fixed physicality. She says, "I was already a huge fan of Agnes' writing from afar, but this so spoke to what's interesting to me in playmaking, which is constraint, and people shoved up against each other for whatever reason they have to be. I want to see onstage things we can't see anywhere else. You could play all of the dynamics in the piece out in a way that's much more known, but to do it this way, in this realm of sustained and deepening metaphor, is precisely what theater can offer us."

Borinsky's journeying exploration of fixedness-and staying still in a world tilting out of order-bears many resonances as we face an impending capitalism-fueled climate collapse. Borinsky says, "You feel so powerless in the face of the catastrophe of our world; and I've been asking myself what that means dramatically. For so long we believed in stories where there's a protagonist who has some agency and goes out and changes the world in some way, but that's not how things work vis à vis capitalism and climate. The dramatic models I had started to feel less and less useful to me. I'm interested in how characters with limited access to action - who can't go on a literal journey - could offer a backdoor into thinking about these larger problems."

While Borinsky's play subverts common dramatic tropes, it also emulates ancient storytelling. Borinsky brings her own interest in biblical texts and rabbinic commentary/ midrash to bear. As The Trees asks how humans-and theater-might comprehend their place within a world out of control, it also sets its sights on the spiritual examinations this moment demands. The Rabbi character, who took a 10-hour bus ride to behold the rooted siblings, tells them: "I've felt a great sliding in the world. Like we're all sliding off this planet into somewhere... dark and ugly and dead. It seems a little bit like it's all on autopilot. Like God is off... somewhere... else...And so when I read about you two, it seemed to me like God might have returned."

Playwrights Horizons Artistic Director Adam Greenfield says, "Agnes Borinsky is an endlessly curious writer, in both senses of that word. After reading and eventually developing an earlier work of hers, Going Out and Coming Back - an excruciatingly beautiful, sweetly strange coming of age story, I basically fell over myself to commission Agnes. The result was The Trees, which I've been jonesing to produce since I first read the play a couple years before the pandemic. Agnes's play reads like a Book of Genesis for a new civilization, the offering of a new paradigm that graciously rejects the values that have established this mess we're in today. It's a salve for the year 2023. At Playwrights Horizons, I'm in pursuit of plays this imaginative, this audacious to become an expectation for what theater can inject into our lives - of normalizing risk and experimentation. The Trees feels like an invitation to live in another world."

The Trees continues Playwrights Horizons' collaboration with Page 73 following the organizations' Tony Award-winning world premiere production of Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop, now playing on Broadway.

Page 73 Artistic Director Michael Walkup says, "Page 73's relationship with Agnes began at our 2014 Summer Residency, and over the course of several retreats and workshops I've encountered the breadth of her theatrical interests and ambitions. When I read an early draft of The Trees I felt so many threads present in her other work coming together in one beautiful, large-scale play: the meaning of home, the fellowship of chosen families, the religious and secular rituals we engage in to mark the passage of our lives. Agnes is poised and ready for an expansive and inventive career and I can't wait to introduce our audiences to a talented playwright whose work they will be following for decades to come."

Performance Schedule and Ticketing

The Trees runs February 12-March 19, 2023, in Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theater and officially opens on Monday, March 5. Tickets go on sale to the general public on Monday January 10, 2023.

About Agnes Borinsky (Playwright)

Playwrights debut. Borinsky is a writer and artist who has collaborated on all sorts of projects in basements, backyards, gardens, circus tents, classrooms, bars, and theaters. She wrote The Marriage of Earth and Sky for Playwrights Horizons' anthological fiction podcast, Soundstage. Selected plays include A Song of Songs (Bushwick Starr & El Puente), Ding Dong It's the Ocean (Rady&Bloom), Brief Chronicle, Books 6-8 (i am a slow tide), and Of Government (Clubbed Thumb). Borinsky lives in Los Angeles.

About Tina Satter (Director)

Playwrights debut. Satter is a writer and director. Her critically acclaimed play Is This A Room, which she conceived and directed, ran on Broadway in fall 2021 at the Lyceum Theatre, after a fall 2019 Off-Broadway premiere at the Vineyard Theatre. She is Artistic Director of Half Straddle, an Obie-winning ensemble of performers and designers whose work has been presented across the United States and internationally. Satter attended Mac Wellman's graduate playwriting program at Brooklyn College.

About the Cast

Jess Barbagallo

(David). Broadway: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. International Tour: Fiabe Italiane, The Other Here, Seagull (Thinking of you), Endgame. Off-Broadway: Oresteia, House/Divided, Help. Regional: As You Like It (La Jolla Playhouse), Man in a Case (Hartford Stage). TV: Law and Order. Education: MFA, Brooklyn College.

Marcia DeBonis

(Sheryl). Playwrights Horizons: Fran's Bed. Other NY theater: Second Stage, Ars Nova, NYSF, and the Barrow Group, of which she is a founding member. Film: upcoming indies Sometimes I Think About Dying (Sundance 2023), Booger, Gazer, and Merry Good Enough, as well as Funny Pages, Sully, That's What She Said (Sundance 2012), Bride Wars,13 Going on 30, and L.I.E., among many others. TV: recurring roles on Heels, Almost Family, Orange Is the New Black, Homeland, The Other Two, and Lipstick Jungle, plus Social Distance, The Deuce, High Maintenance, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Graduate of UCLA.

Crystal Dickinson

(Sheila). Playwrights Horizons: Clybourne Park, The Call. Broadway: Clybourne Park, You Can't Take It With You. Recent Off-Broadway: Lessons In Survival: 1971 (The Vineyard Theater), Cullud Wattah (The Public Theater), Wine in the Wilderness (Two River Theater.) She has also performed at Lincoln Center, Signature Theater, and The Atlantic. Film & TV credits include recurring roles on The Chi and For Life.

Sean Donovan

(Jared) is an actor, dancer, writer, choreographer, and director. Recent theater credits: Oratorio for Living Things (Ars Nova), Elements of Oz (Skirball Center), Turn of the Screw (BAM), Thank You for Coming (BAM, Bessie Award nomination.) Recent original works: Cabin (The Public, Bushwick Starr), The Reception (HERE Arts). Donovan won a 2022 Lucille Lortel Award for his performance in Heather Christian's Oratorio for Living Things. Upcoming: vocalist and Associate Choreographer in Taylor Mac's Bark of Millions, premiering in 2023.

Xander Fenyes

(Ezra). Playwrights Horizons debut. Eight-year-old Xander Fenyes lives in the Bronx with his parents and younger brother, Connor. He began his professional acting career at age 5 and has appeared on GirlsFiveEva, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Sesame Street. Xander is a 4th grader in the Gifted & Talented academic program, and skipped from kindergarten to 2nd grade. His hobbies include lots of reading, adding to his collection of over 1,000 books, and, of course, acting.

Nile Harris

(Julian) is performer and director of live works of art. He has done a few things and hopes to do a few more, God willing.

Max Gordon Moore

(Saul). Playwrights Horizons debut. Broadway credits include The Nap and Saint Joan (MTC), Indecent and Relatively Speaking. Off-Broadway appearances include Golden Shield (MTC), Man From Nebraska (Second Stage), Describe the Night (Atlantic Theatre), Coriolanus (The Public), The Master Builder (BAM), Mothers (Playwrights Realm), Man and Superman, It's a Wonderful Life (Irish Rep). TV and Film appearances include Here Today, East New York, New Amsterdam, Succession, NCIS: New Orleans, Instinct, Madam Secretary, The Good Wife. Max is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Yale School of Drama.

Pauli Pontrelli

(Tavish). Theater credits include The Visitor (The Public, Original Cast Recording), Dom Juan (Fisher Center/Bard Summerscape), This Clement World (St. Ann's Warehouse), House of Dance (Half Straddle, Zürich Theater Spektakel, Kyoto Experiment, MASS Live Arts), Look Upon Our Lowliness (The Movement), Tiny Beautiful Things (Long Wharf), and I and You (Chester Theatre Company). TV and film credits include Instinct (CBS), Fry Day. Pontrelli movement-directed Marie, It's Time for minor theater. MFA: NYU Graduate Acting Program.

Ray Anthony Thomas

(Norman). Playwrights Horizons: Kindness. Broadway: American Buffalo, Trouble in Mind, Jitney (also National Tour), The Crucible, Race. Off Broadway: created roles in Between Riverside and Crazy and Water by the Spoonful, received an Obie Award for Volunteer Man. Film: The Harbinger, The Untitled Novelist Project, The Rest of Us, Trouble with the Curve, Shutter Island. TV: Law & Order, New Amsterdam, Flatbush Misdemeanors, Social Distance, High Maintenance.

Danusia Trevino

(Grandmother) is an actress and a storyteller born in Poland. She is a double Moth Grand slam winner and a regular with the mainstage Moth. Theater credits: The Wooster's Group A Pink Chair (Centre de Pompidou, Performing Garage), Polish director Krzysztof Garbaczewski's VR project Exegesis (La MaMa) and Ginsberg/Bialoszewski (Warsaw's New Theater), Siti Company (National Tour). She was a part of the New York literary salon Women of Letters and This Alien Nation (Joe's Pub).

Sam Breslin Wright

(Terry/Vendor). Playwrights Horizons: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play. Broadway: Macbeth. Selected Off-Broadway: The Temperamentals (Drama Desk Award, Best Ensemble), Coop, Bonnie's Last Flight, King Phillip's Head, Vendetta Chrome, Paris Commune. Selected Regional: We're Gonna Be Okay (Humana Festival), Bunny Foo Foo (Actors Theater of Louisville), The Three Sisters (Berkeley Rep/Yale Rep). Eight seasons at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Selected TV & Film: Madam Secretary (recurring), Bull (recurring), Elementary, Law & Order, The Beaver, Rescue Me. Upcoming: The Crowded Room (Apple TV). MFA: UCSD. Artistic Associate of The Civilians.

Becky Yamamoto

(Charlotte). Playwrights Horizons debut. Theater: Pullman, WA )Chelsea Theater, London), Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven (HERE, national and international touring), Vengeance Can Wait (PS 122). Film/TV: Fort Tilden (SXSW Grand Jury Prize Winner), 3rd St. Blackout (LA Film Festival), Loot (Apple TV), Pretty Smart (Netflix), Younger (TV Land). Stand up: SF Sketchfest, Pacific Crest Comedy Fest, The Improv, Laugh Factory among others. Writer/Actor: Uninspired (NYTVF, IFC), 2Chans (NYTVF), Best Actress award.

About the Creative Team

Parker Lutz

(Scenic Designer) is an actor and scenic designer working in New York. She has worked extensively in the U.S. and Europe. She served as scenic designer for Is This a Room on Broadway. Lutz received a Bessie Award for Sustained Achievement in Dance for her work with John Jasperse Projects as well as a Bessie Award for Visual Design for Dogs with Sarah Michelson Group (BAM Next Wave Festival). She has been designing sets with Half Straddle since 2016.

Enver Chakartash

(Costume Designer). Playwrights Horizons: Catch as Catch Can. Broadway: Is This a Room. Off-Broadway: English (Atlantic Theater Company), Bodies They Ritual (Clubbed Thumb), POWER (BAM), Which Way to the Stage (MCC), Wolf Play (Soho Rep), CITIZEN (BAM), Straight White Men (The Public). Regional: Vietgone (Guthrie Theater), Romeo & Juliet (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival), Straight White Men (Steppenwolf Theatre Company). With Tina Satter/Half Straddle: Ghost RIngs, Ancient Lives, House of Dance, Seagull (Thinking of You). With The Wooster Group: A Pink Chair, The Town Hall Affair, The B-Side, Early Shaker Spirituals, Early Plays. With Elevator Repair Service: Ulysses.

Thomas Dunn

(Lighting Designer). Playwrights Horizons debut. Broadway: Is This A Room. Off-Broadway: The Undertaking; A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again; House For Sale; Paris Commune; Evolution; 10 Things to Do Before I Die; Gone Missing. Regional: Ocean Filibuster; The Little Dog Laughed (Kevin Kline Award). Opera: Powder Her Face. Music: Difficult Grace; KLANG: The 24 hours of the Day. Dance: Epochal Songs; Nottthing Is Importanttt (Bessie Award).

Tei Blow

(Sound Designer) is a media designer and performer based in Brooklyn, NY. Tei works with sound, video, computer and automation. He is the recipient of a New York Dance and Performance "Bessie" Award for Outstanding Sound Design for David Neumann/Advanced Beginner Group's I Understand Everything Better. Tei is a member of Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble, whose ongoing multipart series The Art of Luv is a recipient of Creative Capital and Franklin Furnace Awards.

Amanda Villalobos

(Puppet Designer) creates puppets and specialty props for both stage and television and has performed on and off-Broadway as an actor and puppeteer. She is a MacDowell Colony fellow and her work has been nominated for two Drama Desk Awards and has been awarded grants and residencies from the Henson Foundation and BAX. Collaborators include theater companies Elevator Repair Service, Half Straddle, 7 Daughters of Eve Theater & Performance Company, and Becca Blackwell.

Stage Management

Randi Rivera

(Production Stage Manager) is a native New Yorker from the Bronx. She has been a freelance Stage Manager and Lighting Director since 2009 and a company member of Half Straddle since 2012. Most recently Rivera served as Associate Director for the Broadway run of Tina Satter & Half Straddle's Is This A Room at The Lyceum . She is a proud contributor to many theater and dance production teams both in NYC and on the road - select favorites include Octopus Theatricals, Keigwin & Company, Harlem Stage, Faye Driscoll Group, Doug Elkins Choreography Etc, Sidra Bell Dance NY, The Chocolate Factory, Darrah Carr Dance, Andrew Schneider, Ivy Baldwin Dance, Kyle Marshall Choreography, Cathy Weis, Gallim Dance, Sean Donovan, The Kitchen, Phantom Limb Company, Dance Heginbotham, and Ballez.

Kayla Owen

(Assistant Stage Manager). Playwrights Horizons: ASM/Production Assistant for Wish You Were Here. PA for Selling Kabul. New York: Production Assistant for Teeth. Production Supervisor for SheNYC Summer Theatre Festival 2022. Regional: Do You Feel Anger? (PSM) and Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (PSM) at The Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, NY. The Hobbit (ASM), Mystic Pizza Concert Presentation (PSM), and Last Stop on Market Street Concert Presentation (PSM) with Adirondack Theatre Festival. Touring: Macbeth and The Great Gatsby (ASM) with Aquila Theatre Company.

About Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons is a writer's theater dedicated to the development of contemporary American Playwrights, and to the production of innovative new work. In a city rich with cultural offerings, Playwrights Horizons' 51-year-old mission is unique among theaters of its size; the organization has distinguished itself by a steadfast commitment to centering and advancing the voice of the playwright. It's a mission that is always timely, and one that's necessary in the ongoing evolution of theater in this country.

Playwrights Horizons believes that playwrights are the great storytellers of our time, offering essential contributions to civic discourse and illuminating life's greatest paradoxes. And they believe in the singularity of a writer's voice, valuing the broad, eclectic spectrum and diversity of American writers. At Playwrights Horizons, writers are supported in every stage of their growth through commissions (engaging several of today's most imaginative playwrights each year), New Works Lab, POP Master Class series, Soundstage audio program, the Lighthouse Project, and Almanac, the organization's digital magazine.

Playwrights Horizons presents a season of productions annually on their two stages, each of which is a world, American, or New York premiere. Much like Playwrights Horizons' work, their audience is risk-taking and adventurous; and the organization is committed to strengthening their engagement and feeding their curiosity through all of its programming, onsite and online.

About Page 73 Productions

Since its founding in 1997, Page 73 has unwaveringly focused on nurturing early-career playwrights and expanding the theatrical canon. The organization has consistently sought to open new pathways to recognition for fresh, urgent, and daring voices, in part by mounting works solely by writers who have not yet had a New York City premiere Off-Broadway. In 2020, the organization was honored with an institutional Obie Award "for providing extraordinary support for early career playwrights."

Page 73 has become renowned for introducing playwrights with a distinct approach to theatricality and language into the larger theatrical ecosystem. Page 73 offers writers career guidance, financial assistance, and development opportunities through programs including the Page 73 Playwriting Fellowship, the Interstate 73 Writers Group, and writing retreats and residencies. The organization helps playwrights move their work toward premiere, in Page 73's own presentations or co-presentations with partner institutions, or by connecting writers to available opportunities at colleague theaters. Playwrights leave Page 73's programs having meticulously honed their crafts, formed kinetic new collaborative relationships, and been equipped to flourish as empowered, self-assured artists.

Page 73 developed and, with Playwrights Horizons, produced the world premiere of Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop, which won dozens of prestigious awards including the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Among Page 73's many other celebrated world and New York premieres are Zora Howard's STEW, which was named a Finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Mia Chung's Catch as Catch Can, Leah Nanako Winkler's Kentucky, Max Posner's Judy, Clare Barron's You Got Older, George Brant's Grounded, and John J. Caswell, Jr.'s Man Cave. Diversifying the American theater and making space for voices theater audiences have not yet heard is at the core of Page 73's ethos. Page 73 has co-produced with eminent new play theaters including Soho Rep., Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, and Ensemble Studio Theatre. The organization produced the professional New York City debuts of Samuel D. Hunter (2015 MacArthur Fellow), Quiara Alegría Hudes (2012 Pulitzer Prize winner), Dan LeFranc (2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award recipient), Heidi Schreck (2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Tony Award nominee), and Clare Barron (2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist). Close to two-thirds of the over 140 playwrights supported by the organization have subsequently received New York or regional theater productions, and the number grows each season.


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